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But rather a perfectly sighted man putting on blinders. The following e-mail exchange could just as well have happened in your hometown. I encourage you to do the same. Here is a simple conversation I had with the City of Rochester regarding its curbside recycling programs. It’s not like the city does not provide lots of information and support for these programs. I was writing to ask the city for a copy of any cost-benefit evaluation of its recycling program. After all, the city spends over $3 million per year to collect recyclables (which works out to a frighteningly large per ton amount for the recycled material they claim to collect) and we should want to know why we are spending that money, to achieve what ends, if we are achieving them effectively, and all that. But apparently we have no idea why we recycle. Well, we seem to just throw around the term “environmental stewards.” Funny that one of their “values” is this:

Leadership
We will act as community models and educators in environmental stewardship. We will always strive to “do the right thing” in environmental matters.

Wouldn’t “doing the right thing” mean we actually aim to achieve the environmental objectives of particular programs? And wouldn’t it also require not squandering resources? And wouldn’t this be especially important given this proclamation:

Sustainability
We carefully consider how to best design construction that can be maintained over time without damaging the environment, balancing near-term interests with the protection of future generations. We recognize the interdependence of environmental quality, economic growth and social justice. (wintercow emphasis added)

I’ll be dedicating a fairly long series of posts in the near future on the topics of sustainability and social justice. So let’s just get to the meat of this matter … here is the correspondence. Before reading it, please note that the folks I have dealt with seem to be earnest, hard working and sincere. They are not necessarily the targets of my concern here.

From: Michael Rizzo [mailto:rizzo.liberty@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, November 18, 2010 8:57 PM
To: CITY OF ROCHESTER (I took out the names)

Subject: Email from the Web – Recycling

Dear Mr. _______,

I am writing to inquire if the City of Rochester has undertaken any cost-benefit analysis of its curbside recycling programs both in terms of its environmental objectives and economic effects. If so, I would very much appreciate learning where I could secure a copy. If not, I would have some questions that I would appreciate having answered.

Many thanks,
Michael Rizzo

From: CITY OF ROCHESTER [mailto:______@CityofRochester.gov]
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2010 11:51 AM
To: ‘Michael Rizzo’
Subject: RE: Email from the Web – Recycling

Michael,

Thanks for your e-mail. I am not aware of any such analysis undertaken by the City of Rochester.  You might try asking Monroe County if they have anything along those lines.  I will try to answer any questions you may have.

Regards,

_____

From: Michael Rizzo [mailto:rizzo.liberty@gmail.com]
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2010 2:09 PM
To: CITY OF ROCHESTER
Subject: RE: Email from the Web – Recycling

Hi ___________,

Thanks for your honest response. Isn’t it rather alarming that we have such an extensive program but have neither evaluated it before nor after implementing it? Would you happen to know the name of the person in Monroe County I could query to follow-up on this?

Many thanks,

Mike

________________________________

From: CITY OF ROCHESTER [mailto:_________@CityofRochester.gov]
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2010 4:11 PM
To: ‘Michael Rizzo’
Subject: RE: Email from the Web – Recycling

Hi Mike,

I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t given this any thought.  We are mandated to provide the program.  We try to be as efficient as possible, but It costs us more to collect recyclables than it does refuse, even with a zero tipping fee on recyclables from Monroe County.

I spoke to _________ at the County to see if the County had any kind of study or analysis on this.  He indicated that they do not.

Regards,

______

Wouldn’t good sense, or even a commitment to social justice require that we look long and hard about how we spend millions of dollars. Especially in a city and county with this sort of prevalent problem? And what, then, would it take to have the city reconsider what it is doing, since clearly thinking about costs and benefits is out of the question?

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6 Responses to “It’s Not a Blind Man Groping in the Dark”

  1. BS says:

    well i’ve just spent the last hour visiting random blog sites and writing why their “helping” the environment is unfounded on any economic logic..of course I know this has no worthwhile purpose, but it was supposed to help me relax, feel like I was doing good. But as I read more and more I was just left angrier and angrier. Quotes like “we all know that cutting down trees is bad and planting trees is good,” and one admitting that there are more trees today than 100 years ago, but arguing that this was a result of the gov’t, and then another explaining how recycling was crucial before the world became overwhelmed with garbage littering “littering our children’s playgrounds.”

    So I decided to come here, to a blog I trust…but I shouldn’t have. I should have known that everything I read here is depressing as well. We are mandated to recycle….is every county mandated to recycle? Does it matter if one county has more pressing concerns that need the 3 million dollars more than recycling…does it matter that the chemicals and energy used to recycle are harmful in themselves…no, apparently not.

    Ugh. I am going to try and sleep, but really that means I’ll sit in my bed shaking my head and trying to fathom how so many people can care so much about the environment, and never take the time to figure out how to best help it.

  2. Ryan says:

    Sometimes we do things that are expensive because of some value other than cost. Obviously, right? That should be addressed, too. Good post, though, I appreciate the direct insight into your local thing, and look forward to reading more.

  3. Rod says:

    Trash littering the playground is a sign that people don’t use trashcans. It’s part of the culture of places like Filthydelphia, and it doesn’t have that much to do with recycling.

    My grandmother was in the avant garde of recycling. She saved rubber bands, had an enormous ball of string from the strings of feedbags, and used the same jars year after year for canning. She and my grandfather also maintained a substantial compost pile even though they had plenty of cow manure from our dairy cows. And she learned this all on her own, without lessons from local and county government about sustainability and social justice.

    Regarding those lessons, one cannot underestimate how mandates about environmental action are oriented toward the raw expansion of government. And once hired, government workers are very difficult to eliminate, and their pension costs live on. That’s why it’s essential not to start make-work programs like recycling, even if they make people feel good.

  4. Speedmaster says:

    Whenever you see the term “social justice,” you can be confident that if you’re a taxpayer and or productive in any way, you’re going to end up scr*wed.

  5. I just read this post, it made me really sad. The fact that no CBA took place at either the town or county level is hard to even comprehend. Again, the just following orders defense seems to be issued.

    ps. Can you do one post about something really cool, like a great mountain or a delicious food!

  6. [...] interest whatsoever about whether trees remain standing or not. How could they? If they did, they would at least have to have paused once or twice to ask if recycling paper is a good way to achieve …, if at all. But they do no such thing. Just remember the religious zeal with which people claim [...]

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